Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Simon Cowell and American Idol - "Moo"

(H/T: Joanne Jacobs)

Professional educators do, on occasion, get it right. (I kid, of course; I have every respect for professional educators. It's only their unions for which I hold contempt.)

Nancy Flanagan, being a music teacher, understands the full impact of an American Idol society.

Flanagan is one of those souls who understand the value of music in a person's life, even if that person's voice would never make it on Simon Cowell's stage. She writes about music as a gift:
Singing is a great gift—a fun, wholesome activity that builds community, expresses joy, sorrow and humor, entertains and binds us together in life’s transitional moments. There is no human tradition that is not made richer and illuminated by good music.
Of course, in American Idol's world view, therein lies the rub. How does one define "good music?"

American Idol exists for one reason: to make money. Simon Cowell, contrary to whatever altruisms he may spout in interviews, exists only to make money. His recent rantings about being worth more than Bruce Springsteen (just another of today's overrated and overpaid entertainers, as far as Woody is concerned) are far more indicative of how Cowell views his contributions to the entertainment industry. Cowell is a cash cow, and the industry will continue to worship at his feet for as long as he creates revenue.

Thus American Idol is less about "good music," and more about making sure that the industry continues to create revenue generators; talented (if only by Cowell's narrow judgements) people who look good and will sell records. I have long since given up on the popular music industry being able to define "good music" to my own satisfaction. Then again, I ain't in it for the money.

Flanagan continues:
What bothers me is that children watch American Idol, and children are now developing this idea that singing is something that should be attempted only by the “talented.” Some children now believe that judging singers is an amusing spectator activity, and making fun of imperfect singers is perfectly OK. Hilarious and justified, in fact: anyone who dares to sing in front of a camera deserves our scrutiny and scorn. None of this encourages children—or their families—to participate joyfully in group or individual singing. In the American Idol paradigm, singing is now reserved for those who have a “good” voice.
This is not unique to the popular music industry; this is the entire entertainment industry's paradigm. But we must be careful to keep things in their proper perspective. The entertainment industry does not represent the best that music has to offer. Not by a long shot. The best example of this would be classical music. While technically part of the entertainment industrial complex, classical musicians are typically ignored by the industry until the awards are handed out.

Quick: without Googling it, what classical albums scored Grammys this year? Were they even acknowledged in the telecast? I confess to not knowing for two reasons: First, I haven't watched a Grammy telecast in over twenty years. Also, my own tastes in classical music are fairly narrowly defined, and the stuff I tend to like would probably never win an award. But I find it odd to note that, for an industry that owes its very existence to classical music, there is so little appreciation of it among the rank and file.

So what, then, does American Idol represent? The superficial, I'd have to say. The shallow. The self-indulgent. The cash. Nancy Flanagan is quite correct: American Idol teaches our young people that if their voices are not worthy of Simon Cowell, they must be hidden away. American Idol encourages only American Idolators; those who worship at the false altars of pride and self-justification.

Thank goodness Simon Cowell wasn't around thirty seven years ago when a small, wiry boy who didn't know any better first auditioned for a small part in "Oliver!" I'm no American Idol, but I'm no slouch, either. And I'd much rather have someone come up to me after a concert and thank me for singing, than have Simon Cowell berate me for my lack of "presence" any day. What does he know, after all? He's just a cash cow.


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